Diverse routes beckon students to diploma

Standard high school or middle school may not be the right choice for every student

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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Clark County schools are full of opportunities for students looking for an alternative education.

A group of Battle Ground middle school students were the latest to get the alternative option when Summit View High School’s program expanded to seventh and eighth grades this school year.

Bill Penrose, Summit View principal, said the program, located at Maple Grove Middle School, targets students who are “disconnected from school,” have attendance issues or don’t seem to do well in the typical classroom setting.

“There’s a tremendous focus on the relationship with the teacher and building a community in the classroom,” Penrose said.

Teachers use more hands-on training and activities to try to keep students engaged in learning. The goal is to catch students who are at risk of becoming high school drop-outs and reconnect them with the classroom before it is too late, Penrose said.

Unlike most other alternative schools in the county, including Summit View’s high school program, the middle school magnet is a full-day affair.

Battle Ground’s HomeLink River and CAM Junior-Senior High School have earned high marks for close attention to students, reflected in top-notch state test scores. The CAM Junior-Senior High School serves more than 400 students and evolved out of the district’s home-school program in 1996.

Other alternative schools around the county include: Hayes Freedom High School in Camas, Washougal’s Excelsior High School, Legacy High School in the Evergreen district and Lewis and Clark High School in Vancouver.

Steady growth has dispelled the old notion they’re chiefly for students with discipline issues.

Other locations offer students different choices.

Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, with enrollment and eligibility tightly controlled by the Vancouver district, supplies a strong liberal arts, fine arts and performing arts curriculum for students in grades six through 12.

And then there’s Clark County Skills Center in east Vancouver.

The campus was launched in 1983 as a cooperative venture of eight school districts and local business interests to prepare students for the workforce in vocational or trade and technical careers, beyond what any one district could provide.

Students from all corners of Clark County are drawn by training in culinary arts, automotive and mechanical, medical, legal, business, and cosmetology skills, all of which is highly regarded by employers. Most students split their school days between core subjects at their home high school or home-school and elective courses at the Skills Center.

Given forecast high demand for skilled trades workers to replace a large number of retiring U.S. laborers in coming years, Skills Center curriculum should remain rewarding for students who prefer something other than a traditional college-bound career track.